It's been another great year for Greek island holidays with a record number of visitors in 2014. Tourists passing through airports in the eight months to September have topped the 12.1 million mark according to latest figures, up 15% on 2013 when new records were set for holiday visitors with a similar double digit rise. It appears the UK is leading the way with a whopping 25% increase this year, closely followed by France and the US. Foreign visitors are also spending more with Brits again out in front with a rise of 40% on last year. The recent rise in Russian visitor numbers has been hit hard by the collapse of the rouble and several tour agencies over the summer. It certainly looks like Greece will pass last year's all-time record of 17.5 million by the end of 2014 and could even pass the 20 million mark.
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Independent holiday guides to all the main Greek islands and beach resorts as well as travel information and holiday offers from tour companies and Greek hotel owners. We try to keep it all up to date but with so many islands it's not easy. Please email Greek Islands Postcards about any inaccuracies.
As an antidote to the usual gushing Greece holiday brochures we offer a more prosaic peek at holiday travel in the Greek islands with unbiased reports and independent guides to the best Greek beaches.
Our Popular Greek islands list those in greatest demand. They usually have their own airport and plenty of tourist attractions.
The Peaceful islands tend to be off the main tourist trail and, while some have larger airports, others may need a ferry journey to reach them.
The Sleepy islands are well off the tourist track and may only be reached by ferry, with some a considerable distance from the nearest large airport.
Our Offbeat islands are mainly for those seeking a more remote and authentic Greek islands holiday.
Favourite Greek beaches
Kefalos sits on the hillside above Kamari Bay in the south west of the island about 20 minutes from Kos airport. A long sand beach and plenty of good tourist facilites make Kefalos a very popular Kos holiday resort.
Tsambika is a wide beach of deep, golden sand set in a beautiful bay at the end of a long and steep, winding road. Tsambika has good, soft sand and the water is shallow and calm so this beach is very popular with families.
The coarse black volcanic sand at the beach resort of Kamari gets very hot in mid-summer. This popular resort has sunbeds and umbrellas, showers, toilets and watersports as well as a traffic-free beach promenade.
A total of 38 Greek Island beaches have been stripped of their Blue Flag status this summer after spot checks found they failed to reach the required standards. Corfu was hit the worst after 23 of its 30 island beaches having the coveted Blue Flags withdrawn. Inspectors found that many of the island beaches failed to meet the 32 strict criteria needed to win Blue Flag status. Other notable flag losses were on the islands of Lesvos, Zante and Crete. The setback still leaves Greece second out of 51 countries for the number of clean, safe beaches along its shores, with 370 still flying the Blue Flag, but this will be a bitter blow to Greek tourism leaders. The Blue Flag beach award is considered the gold standard in the tourism industry with the annual accolade issued by the Foundation for Environmental Education.
Featured Greek sights
Marathi in the north Dodecanese island group has a couple of small harbours, and a good sandy beach with three tavernas. It's a popular day trip target for excursion boats from nearby Patmos, Leros, Lipsi and Samos.
The impregnable fortress of Monolithos, built in 1480 by the Knights of St John, perches on top of a precipitous 300-ft high rock overlooking the east coast of Rhodes near the beach resort of Fourni.
The Petaloudes butterfly valley of Paros is on the west side of the island near Alyki. The leafy valley is summer breeding ground for thousands of Tiger moths which display bright red wings when in full flight.
Seaplane services linking the Greek Islands look set for take-off soon after the Greek government gave the go-ahead for test flights on water runways in the Peloponnese in July. If successful, holidaymakers could find island hopping must faster with plans already in the pipeline to launch seaplane services from ports on Corfu, Crete and Zante. A recent statement suggests seaplane flights would be aimed at tourists and not compete with current ferry schedules. It is expected that permits will be granted to island port authorities to put seaplane services out to tender. A number of private companies are already offering to fly island routes. This is not the first attempt to establish a seaplane network across the Greek Islands. A similar scheme was launched in 2005 but collapsed under a sea of red tape.
Scuba diving off the Greek Islands got a new lease of life when diving bans were lifted. Now Greek scuba dive centres are springing up everywhere to meet the demand. Until recently, diving was limited to just a few Greek island dive sites in order to protect the ancient underwater treasures that lie beneath its seas. Now scuba diving is allowed pretty much everywhere in Greek seas with just a few prohibited sites. The result has been a sharp rise in the number of Greek Island diving centres. In choosing one for your holiday be sure to check that instructors are PADI qualified and the wise will take out specialist scuba diving insurance just in case. That said, the crystal clear waters of Greece are teeming with marine life and there are some spectacular caves and shipwrecks for Greek Island visitors to explore.
Planning ahead has always been a headache for those who like Greek island hopping on the extensive ferry system. Summer timetables were never published before May making it hard work to plan a Greek holiday on more than a couple of islands. This year is different. Ferry companies got together and agreed to release summer routes and schedules at the end of last year. The move makes it possible for Greek holiday enthusiasts to cash in on holiday discounts for booking cheap flights early safe in the knowledge that they will not find themselves stuck on an island for days trying to find out when the next ferry sailing is scheduled. The much-welcomed move, along with newly launched seaplane services, should help boost visitor numbers to the Greek Islands even more and extend the holiday season.
There are more than 6,000 Greek Islands but most are just lumps of rock. Only around 230 are inhabited and about 80 have a population over 100. About a dozen are major holiday destinations with another 20 having substantial tourist visitors. There are six basic island groupings: the Ionian lie to the west and contain holiday islands of Corfu, Lefkas, Kefalonia and Zante. The Cyclades are found in the central Aegean and include Mykonos and Santorini as well as lesser visited islands like Paros and Naxos. To the east are the Dodecanese and major islands like Rhodes and Kos as well as smaller ones such as Symi and Patmos. To the northeast is the Sporades group which includes Skiathos and the north Aegean group of Samos, Lesvos and Thassos. To the south is Crete - big enough to be on its own.